Itapema presents an intriguing list of new partnerships on the World Tour
For most, the 2021 beach volleyball season came to a thrilling end on October 10, the finale of the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals, which featured yet another crown for the Vikings of Norway, and the biggest career win for Germans Karla Borger and Julia Sude.
It had been a long season, one that featured bubbles, a three-week event in Cancun, more COVID tests than anyone’s nostrils care to recount, an Olympic Games with no fans, and the World Tour Finals.
And yet, one more event remains: the Itapema 4-star on November 10-14. It marks both the final event of the 2021 season and the last under the star system, which was put into place following the Rio Olympic Games.
One era ends. Several others begin.
Itapema will provide a first look at a number of intriguing partnerships on both the men’s and women’s side. Below are a few to take note of when the event begins on November 10.
Alison Cerutti and Guto Carvalhaes, Brazil
After the Tokyo Olympics concluded, Alison evaded any questions about what the next phase of his career might look like. Would he retire? Take a season off? Would he continue playing with Alvaro Filho, with whom he enjoyed so much success throughout the Tokyo quad? He was, understandably, not prepared to answer any such questions in the immediate aftermath of his third Olympic Games. He’d spend time with family, he said. Figure things out.
Already, he has. Alison has picked up Guto, a positively brilliant 28-year-old who, since earning the 2016 FIVB Rookie of the Year award, has been playing under the banner of the Brazilian federation. Since 2016, Guto has been in perpetual search of a consistent partner, competing with Saymon Barbosa, Andre Loyola, Evandro Goncalves, Pedro Solberg, Vitor Felipe, Ricardo Santos, Thiago Santos, and Arthur da Silva.
Now, he seems to have found a long-term partner in Alison, one of the best Brazilian players of all-time.
Evandro Goncalves and Alvaro Filho, Brazil
With Alison turning to Guto, Alvaro, perhaps the best defender in the Brazilian federation currently, was immediately picked up by Evandro, who competed alongside Bruno Oscar Schmidt for the Tokyo Olympics.
While, yes, Paris is still three years away, it is not too early to label this team as an immediate medal contender. Evandro is still the best server in the world, and one of its best offensive players. Alvaro, too, is a side out machine as well as one of the grittiest defenders on the planet. Neither will have to switch sides, as Evandro has long been a strong left side player, a perfect complement to the left-handed Alvaro, who plays right. They’ve already won gold on the Brazilian tour.
Will they win their first event on the World Tour?
Alex Ranghieri and Daniele Lupo, Italy
It would only be proper if the collective beach volleyball world tipped its cap to the transcendent partnership of Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai. For the past 11 years, they have been trailblazers for Italian beach volleyball, becoming the first Italian team to win a World Tour event, the only Italian team to top the World Tour rankings, the first to win a European Championship, first to appear on an Olympic podium, and first to qualify for three Olympic Games.
The beach volleyball world is better because of them.
Now, each are turning to new partners, Nicolai to young Sam Cottafava, Lupo to Alex Ranghieri.
Ranghieri hasn’t been seen much since he and Adrian Carambula qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games; he played in 17 events in 2016 and has competed in just 29 in the five years since.
But, make no mistake, Ranghieri, who is 34 years old, is still very much the Olympic-caliber blocker he was in 2016, and Lupo, who is only 30, is still at the top of his game. This is going to be a smooth, athletic team to watch.
Adrian Gavira and Alejandro Huerta, Spain
If the entry list seems strange having Lupo and Nicolai on different teams, it’s equally bizarre to see Adrian Gavira without Pablo Herrera. The two have played 123 tournaments together dating back to 2009, qualifying for three Olympics and winning 20 FIVB medals. For Itapema, Gavira will be playing with Alejandro Huerta, a 23-year-old who has just 19 FIVB tournaments under his belt.
Huerta has played almost exclusively with Cesar Menendez, making one main draw in 2021 – the Ostrava 4-star, where he was knocked out by Herrera and Gavira.
Now, before we go too far, it's important to note that Herrera is currently injured and will undergo surgery. After the Olympics, Herrera and Gavira announced they were staying together, but still: it'll be interesting to see Gavira with someone new.
Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, United States
This quad will be an awfully strange one in the United States, as it is the first since the 2008 Beijing Olympics that does not feature Phil Dalhausser and Jake Gibb as the No. 1 and No. 2 blockers. With Dalhausser retiring from the international game, and Gibb retiring from beach volleyball entirely, it left a gaping question: who will Taylor Crabb choose as his running mate for the Paris Olympics?
For Itapema at least, Crabb turned away from the beach and looked indoors, scooping up Taylor Sander, a good friend and one of the best outside hitters in the world. Crabb has not announced if Sander is his long-term partner or not, only that Sander is a viable candidate. Itapema will be an interesting test to see how quickly Sander can transition to the beach.